For the Sundarbans, time is running out

Rising sea levels threaten to flood many of the islands in the broad and fertile Ganges delta, leading to environmental disaster and a refugee crisis for India and Bangladesh

Dependra Das stretches out his arms to show his flaky skin, covered in raw saltwater sores. His fingers submerged in soft black clay for up to six hours a day, he spends his time frantically shoring up a crude sea dike surrounding his remote island home in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest delta.

Alongside him, across the beach in long lines, the villagers of Ghoramara island, the women dressed in purple, orange and green saris, do the same, trying to hold back the tide.

For the islanders, each day begins and ends the same way. As dusk descends, the people file back to their thatched huts. By morning the dike will be breached and work will begin again. Here in the vast, low-lying Sundarbans, the largest mangrove wilderness on the planet, Das, aged 70, is preparing to lose his third home to the sea in as many years. Here, global warming is a reality, not a prediction.

Over the course of a three-day boat trip through the Sundarbans, The Observer found Das’s plight to be far from unique. Across the delta, homes have been swept away, fields ravaged by worsening monsoons, livelihoods destroyed. Events confirm what experts have been warning: that the effects of global warming will be most severe on those who did the least to contribute to it and can least afford measures to adapt or save themselves. For these islanders, building clay walls is their only option.


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